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LATIN AMERICA | 06-12-2020 09:17

Uruguay in mourning as ex-president Tabaré Vázquez dies aged 80

Family confirms in statement that left-wing leader, who ruled Uruguay twice from 2005-2010 and 2015-2020, has succumbed to lung cancer.

Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez has died at the age of 80 from lung cancer, his family announced on Sunday. 

"With deep pain we communicate the death of our beloved father," his sons Alvaro, Javier and Ignacio Vázquez said in a statement.

The statement added that Vázquez died at 3am local time "due to natural causes of his oncological disease."

On Twitter, Alvaro Vázquez, who like his father is an oncologist by profession, said that "while he was resting at home, accompanied by some family and friends, Tabaré died because of his illness."

"On behalf of the family, we want to thank all Uruguayans for the affection received by him over so many years," he added.

“He faced his last battle with courage and serenity,” Uruguay's current leader, President Luis Lacalle Pou, said in a tweet. “We had instances of personal and political dialogue that I value and will remember. He served his country and based on the effort he obtained important achievements. He was the President of the Uruguayans. The country is in mourning.”

In 1989, Tabaré Vázquez became the first person from the left-wing Frente Amplio ("Broad Front") coalition to win the mayoralty of Montevideo, having previously become well known as president of football club Atlético Progreso, which is based in the capital.

In 2005, following two failed attempts, he secured the presidency, breaking the traditional hegemony of the Colorado and Nacional parties in Argentina's neighbouring country and ending more than a century of rule by the conservative parties. Part of a wave of leftist leaders in Latin America that rode a commodities boom in the first decade of the millennium, Vázquez leveraged economic growth averaging almost six percent during his first five-year term to expand pension and healthcare provisions.

His second term that started in 2015 was marked by meagre growth, rising unemployment and big deficits. It ended with a centre-right coalition sweeping to power in the 2019 elections, and Vázquez handing the presidential sash to Luis Lacalle Pou of the Nacional Party, who had beaten the Frente Amplio candidate, Daniel Martínez, in an election run-off.

Critics said “that if the left came to power, Uruguayans would suffer because investments would leave and companies would close,” Vázquez told Canal 10 just weeks before his death. “We destroyed that myth.”

He negotiated the largest single investment in Uruguay’s history – a US$3-billion pulp mill that has cushioned the economic impact of the pandemic.

Perhaps his biggest achievement came in 2016 though, when the World Bank ruled against financial compensation claims brought by Philip Morris for Vázquez’s efforts to reduce tobacco consumption through strict regulations on packaging and advertising.

On Twitter, the Frente Amplio reported "with deep pain" the death of its "honorary president, Tabaré Vázquez."

"His example of political integrity and unwavering commitment to our country and the people will drive us to continue his legacy," it said.

In a statement, Vázquez's relatives indicated that, due to coronavirus-related restrictions, they had decided to "not hold a wake."

"His children and grandchildren will see him off in a private and intimate ceremony," they said.

Vázquez, whose wife passed away in July 2019, is survived by his four children.

– TIMES/AFP/BLOOMBERG

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